State Courts and Application Timing

State Courts and Application Timing

State court clerkships should not be overlooked. Clerks have the opportunity to learn state laws and procedures, observe local proceedings, and gain contacts with state judges and attorneys that could lead to the next job. Appellate court clerks often have the chance to create new law on an issue of first impression, and trial court clerks learn the "inside scoop" on the state's litigation process. If you think you might practice in the state, a state court clerkship can be the ideal post-graduate position. The most difficult aspects of applying for state court clerkships are the variations in application and hiring processes. Please see below for resources to help you with these processes.

Applying / Hiring Resources

State courts are generally divided into four levels of courts. Note that some states, such as the District of Columbia, do not have mid-level appellate courts or trial courts of limited jurisdiction.

Hightest Court

In most states, the highest appellate court is called the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals. This court consists of approximately seven justices and hears criminal and civil appeals from the mid-level appellate courts. It handles the most complex and unsettled issues of state law. Some states (e.g., Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey) have a centralized hiring process for clerkships in this court, but many state courts require separate applications to each justice. The court sits in the state's capitol, but some justices may have chambers in other cities.

Mid-Level Appellate Court

Often called the Court of Appeals or Appeals Court, this intermediate appellate court handles criminal and civil appeals from the trial courts. In several states, this court is divided into departments or divisions by jurisdiction. Some states (e.g., Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York) have a centralized process or hire a central staff to service the entire court, while other states require separate applications to each judge.

Trial Courts

State trial courts are usually called Circuit Courts or Superior Courts. These courts of general jurisdiction represent the greatest number of clerkship opportunities within the state judiciary. The trial courts handle civil and criminal cases within a defined geographic area such as a county or city. In some states, judges rotate through civil and criminal calendars. The hiring process varies greatly by state so applicants should research courts of interest. For example, applicants for positions in Virginia should direct their applications to the chief judge of the court, while applicants for positions in Maryland must apply to each judge separately.

Trial Courts of Limited Jurisdiction

Each state also has local courts of limited jurisdiction, often called district courts. These courts adjudicate cases in specialized legal areas such as family and probate, civil actions demanding monetary amounts below certain thresholds, and misdemeanor criminal cases. In some states, judges rotate through civil and criminal calendars. The hiring process varies greatly by state so applicants should research courts of interest.

The timing for state court clerkships varies by state and is less standardized than for the federal courts.

 

States on Federal Plan Timing

Some state judges and courts conform to the federal plan and begin accepting applications in September of the students' third year for clerkships for the following year.

States NOT on Federal Plan Timing

Some state judges and courts accept applications earlier (i.e., during the spring semester of students' second year or the summer before students' third year).

Steps for Researching State Court Clerkships

  1. Find out about the state's court structure by looking at charts provided in BNA Directory of State and Federal Courts and Want's Federal-State Directory. The American Bench also explains the jurisdiction of the various courts within each state.

  2. Research judges and courts on CareerLink.

  3. For judges and courts not listed on CareerLink, use The Guide to State Judicial Clerkship Procedures (The Vermont Guide) to locate general application procedures and timelines.

  4. Some state court websites contain clerkship hiring information and/or contact information for judges and courts. Go to the National Center for State Courts for links to these websites.

  5. If the above resources fail to answer your questions, it is acceptable to call chambers or the court with inquiries about application timing and requirements. The following resources provide contact and biographical information for state court judges: